Those of us who work with kids from at-risk environments are challenged by the truths embedded within their trauma. How much we know about the conditions of their lives is dependent on many things, not the least of which are the protocols surrounding the appropriate disclosure of the always sensitive details. Who needs to know? Can those who perhaps want to know impactful details about the kids they work with handle the emotions surrounding the circumstances? Are there those who won't benefit from knowing these details but insist on not being kept out of the loop?
There appears to be a fairly aggressive desire to know as "much as we can" about the kids we work with, but what if we're focusing on the wrong truths? I'm the first person to assert that we need to know as much as we can about the "story behind the story" of the kids and families we serve, but when circumstances prevent us from knowing as much as we'd hope to, I think we can totally divine a simpler construct in support our most vulnerable clients. In the very simplest of terms, there's only one truth we absolutely need to implicitly know in order to do our best work with kids from at-risk environments... our own.
I have often been involved in difficult conversations regarding the "need to know." At times when it has been necessary to disclose confidential information about a child's personal circumstances, I will typically hear teachers and other school personnel make statements like, "If I had known more about this child, I would have changed the way I interacted with him," to which I typically ask two questions in reply... why and how?
There's one thing we implicitly need to know about kids surviving adverse childhood experiences; our personal truth in the way we feel about supporting kids no matter the type of environment they arrive from every day. Call it a philosophy, a perspective, or whatever you'd like, but the way we perceive our role as kare-givers (caring for kids from at-risk environments,) is the most important awareness we need to be clear about and one that we can never go wrong with if it emerges from the right perspective. The first part of this truth is that we can never, ever judge a child. I often find that this judgement, when it does happen, is grounded in incorrect assumptions about the child; that the behaviour they're communicating with is intentional or premeditated. It's not.
This inaccurate judgement often also manifests in damaging language (verbal and body) that gets communicated back toward the child. We act out what we're feeling, even when we don't realize we're doing it. When we feel that kids are intentional in being "bad," the tendency to take their perceived actions personally is heightened. Our best work cannot materialize when we believe kids are coming to school with deliberate intent to make our day, and their classmate's days as miserable as possible.
Kids know much more about who they're dealing with than we know about them. I often say kids are like horses; they pick up on our nuances and impressions toward them so much more skillfully than we can toward them just like a horse can feel his rider through the saddle better than the rider can feel the horse. This reality puts both the horse, and the child, at a distinct advantage with respect to the ways they respond to our actions, feelings, and words directed toward them. Kids know when we're not at ease dealing with them.
If all of us who work with kids could empathetically approach each of them with kindness and acceptance perhaps we can get by without the advantage of knowing about where they come from. We'd be expressing nothing toward them that necessarily needed to be reacted to. We would be tapping into what good solution-focused therapists know about effectively working with their clients; that you don't need to dwell on the problems to effectively set goals toward the solutions. We should harbor no animosity toward others for not disclosing details about kids we don't need to know. We could simply feel what we should feel about our role as educators; privileged and humbled to have the opportunity to support them from wherever they arrive each and every day. Defaulting to that presents very good odds that we'll build the trust and comfort necessary for kids arriving from at-risk environments not to be at risk within our classroom environments too.